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Cancer Biol Ther. 2007 Feb;6(2):160-9. Epub 2007 Feb 5.

Lack of p53 augments thymoquinone-induced apoptosis and caspase activation in human osteosarcoma cells.

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Department of Pathology, Otto-von-Guericke University of Magdeburg, Magdeburg, Germany.


We have recently shown that thymoquinone (TQ) is an antineoplastic drug that induces p53-dependent apoptosis in human colon cancer cells. This study evaluated the antiproliferative and pro-apoptotic effects of TQ in two human osteosarcoma cell lines with different p53 mutation status. TQ decreased cell survival dose-dependently and, more significantly, in p53-null MG63 cells (IC(50) = 17 muM) than in p53-mutant MNNG/HOS cells (IC(50) = 38 muM). Cell viability was reduced more selectively in MG63 tumor cells than in normal human osteoblasts. Flow cytometric analysis showed that TQ induced a much greater increase in the PreG(1) (apoptotic) cell population, but no cell cycle arrest in MG63. G(2)/M arrest in MNNG/HOS cells was associated with p21(WAF1) upregulation. Using three DNA damage assays, TQ was confirmed to result in a significantly greater extent of apoptosis in p53 null MG63 cells. Although the Bax/Bcl-2 ratios were not differentially modulated in both cell lines, the mitochondrial pathway appeared to be involved in TQ-induced apoptosis in MG63 by showing the cleavage of caspases-9 and -3. Oxidative stress and mitochondrial O(2)(*-) generation in isolated rat mitochondria were enhanced by TQ as measured by the dose-dependent reduction in aconitase enzyme activity and Amplex Red oxidation respectively. TQ-induced oxidative damage, reflected by an increase in gamma-H2AX foci and increased protein expression levels of gamma-H2AX and the DNA repair enzyme, NBS1, was more pronounced in MNNG/HOS than in MG63. We suggest that the resistance of MNNG/HOS cells to drug-induced apoptosis is caused by the up-regulation of p21(WAF1) by the mutant p53 (transcriptional activity was shown by p53 siRNA treatment) which induces cell cycle arrest and allows to repair DNA damage. Collectively, these findings show that TQ induces p53-independent apoptosis in human osteosarcoma cells. As the loss of p53 function is frequently observed in osteosarcoma patients, our data suggest the potential clinical usefulness of TQ for the treatment of these malignancies.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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